Members of the Penn police force want Penn President Amy Gutmann to apologize for participating in a student-led "die-in" at her annual holiday party last Tuesday.
Penn Police Association President Eric Rohrback wrote a sharp letter expressing his disapproval of Gutmann's participation in the protest and concordance with the "uninformed mob mentality." Now, he said he hopes to receive "at least a phone call or letter" from Gutmann expressing an apology.
When the protesters lied down on the floor in demonstration of the four and a half hours Brown’s body was left on the street after he was shot by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., Gutmann joined them in the "die-in."
“To have her participate in such a disrespectful act is not, in any way, ‘support,’ and proves that she does not have the backs of ‘her’ officers,” Rohrback wrote. “It is a slap in the face to every person that wears this uniform and serves this University.”
Gutmann has vocalized great support for the Penn Police force since her arrival at Penn ten years ago — support that Rohrback vehemently questioned in his letter. He said that as soon as he heard about Gutmann’s participation in the die-in, he “freaked out” and immediately drafted the critical letter on his phone.
“You don’t give into peer pressure,” Rohrback said. “You stand your ground and be neutral.”
Rohrback said that his letter captured the views of many members of the police force. “They thanked me for sending it,” he said. “They’re as outraged as I am.”
Not all members of Penn’s public safety department shared his views, however. Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush wrote a letter to the Penn police force shortly after the incident, reassuring them of Gutmann’s continued support and pride in their performance.
“This was a blip on the radar screen. Amy Gutmann is doing so many important things for the University and the students. That’s what we’re all concentrating on,” Rush said in an interview.
Gutmann could not be reached for comment.
Rush did not interpret Gutmann’s participation in the protest as a gibe at the police department’s performance.
“Not for a second do I think that Amy Gutmann’s actions were meant to be critical or negative towards the Penn Police or any Police Organization,” Rush said. “That was not her intention in her heart. She was strictly acting in solidarity in that second with the students voicing their opinions.”
She added that Rohrback “took it upon himself to be the voice of the Penn Police.”
Despite Rush’s assurances, however, Rohrback said he hopes to receive a letter or phone call from Gutmann expressing an apology.
“I understand where Chief Rush is coming from,” Rohrback said. “She’s not taking our side, not taking Amy’s side… She’s trying to keep the peace.”
Organized by members of the Student Labor Action Project and Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation, Penn students took over Gutmann’s annual holiday celebration with a protest, urging Penn to pay PILOT money to support Philadelphia schools and expressing their support for Michael Brown and victims of police brutality.
Gutmann attempted to address the crowd with a microphone, defending Penn’s commitment to Philadelphia schools and referencing the work the University has done with Penn Alexander. Her statement was punctuated with interrupting shouts from protesters, leading Gutmann to simply stop speaking.
Rush found the protest to be “completely out of bounds and disrespectful to our president” since it took place during the annual student holiday party at Gutmann’s house, she said.
Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation, one of the student groups who organized the protest at Gutmann’s holiday party, issued a statement to the Penn Community on its Facebook page.
“It was not our intention for the protest to turn confrontational as we are an organization that engages in peaceful protests,” SOUL founders Breanna Moore and Gina Dukes wrote in the message. “We do not condone the actions of a few individuals who shouted at the president, overshadowing our message.”
Even if Rush and Rohrback have different views on Gutmann’s actions Tuesday night, though, their priority to protect Penn’s students has not wavered.
“We’re still the Penn police department,” Rohrback said. “We’re still out here doing what we’re paid to do.”
Staff writer Jennifer Wright contributed reporting.
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